Changing of the Guard

Five Steps in Pursuit of Common Security: An abridged excerpt from Peter Langille, Changing the Guard: Canada's Defence in a World in Transition.

By Peter Langille | 1990-08-01 12:00:00

We are confronted by a historic opportunity.

Several states which were aligned and heavily armed are in the process of shifting to independent, territorial-based, non-offensive defence postures. They are thereby helping to reduce international tension, free up valuable resources, and provide greater security. Some of the more serious military threats are being eliminated. As these threats diminish, so will the arms race. In the next few years, it may also be possible to arrange the return of all foreign-based forces to their home nations. If the security functions of the United Nations are enhanced, there will be no justification for independent foreign military intervention. Of course there will be risks and conflicts along the way. Yet if these processes are encouraged to continue, by the turn of the century we may truly be on the verge of abolishing war as a phenomenon and moving on to a new era of common security.

Canada could play an important role in this tiansition. Canadian defence planners are now confronted by a range of largely unanticipated and quite profound changes in the strategic environment. First, the conventional military threat has subsided and is being surpassed by other challenges; second, a commitment to deterrence and refining preparation for war is neither safe nor necessary; third, Canada's continued participation in multilateral military alliances and bilateral collective defence arrangements may no longer be required or desirable; and fourth, Canada, as is the case with other nations, can no longer afford to allocate the required level of resources. These developments necessitate a fundamental reappraisal of Canada's approach to international security and defence policy.

This article will introduce five complementary components of a new defence for Canada. It will be argued that by emphasizing the maintenance of a security buffer, pursuing a policy of semi-alignment, shifting to a non-offensive defence posture, adopting astrategy of dissuasion, and working to strengthen the United Nations, Canada's armed forces, resources, and territory could help to promote common security. The roles and requirements are within our means.

A Canadian Security Buffer

Canada presently has a very limited capacity to monitor, patrol, or control activities within its territory. Although the Department of National Defence was somewhat alarmist in 1987, warning that "Canadians cannot ignore that what was once a buffer could become a battleground," what appears to have been overlooked in the defence white paper, Challenge and Commitment is the possibility ofresurrecting this buffer. Our geographic location between two great powers not only imposes an obligation to provide early warning of any incursion, it also offers a unique opportunity for mediating this relationship.

A government could pursue the option of using the armed forces to ensure that Canadian territory and airspace remained an effective security buffer. Essentially, the idea is to make our territory militarily irrelevant and stem any future deployment of forward based systems that might be used for war-fighting purposes. A Canadian security buffer would be a peace-time confidence-building measure. If effectively managed, it might reduce American and Soviet security concerns, and possibly even reduce their defence expenditures.


To enhance Canada's status as a legitimate security buffer, a government might initially pursue a policy of semi-alignment, a conditional alignment wherein support is provided within the NATO alliance structure for strictly defensive activities and arrangements -those deemed to be in the interests of Canadian and common security.

As the alliances proceed to unwind, there is also a good case to be made for considering Tina Viljoen's and Gwynne Dyer's model of Finnish neutrality tied to a security guarantee. In this very new environment, there is likely to be more leeway and tolerance for innovative policies whether they entail semi-alignment, non-alignment or neutrality.

Canadian Non-Offensive Defence Posture

This country could help to shape an era of common security by devising a defence posture that is truly defensive in nature and that indicates to the rest of the world that the protection of our territory is effectively exercised in a manner that promotes the security of all nations. M option worthy of consideration is the endorsement of a non-offensive defence posture.

The rationale for such a posture has already been established in previous Canadian defence policy statements. The 1971 white paper on defence stressed one criterion for evaluating all aspects of policy: to avoid any suggestion of using Canadian Forces to commit aggression, or to contribute to aggression by another state. Such a policy would be unthinkable and unacceptable.

Whereas many of the non-offensive defence models recently designed for other contexts are unsuitable for Canada, the core assumptions are very appropriate. The underlying idea is that nations should relinquish offensive capability and support for provocative strategies in order to structure arrangements, strategies, and weapons consistently with strictly defensive objectives. Such a defence discards any association with nuclear weapons and threats. It converts conventional forces so as to better contribute to local or territorial defence. Defence and defence alone-in the narrow sense of policing, protecting sovereignty, defending ftom within one's own territory, and working to maintain international peace and stability-are the onlyj ustifiable rationales for military capabilities. Canada's defence could easily be structured accordingly.


In 1971, the Department of National Defence accepted in its white paper that:

The fearsome logic of mutual deterrence is clearly not a satisfactory long-term solution to the problem of preventing world conflict. But pending the establishment of a better system of security, it is the dominant factor in world politics today.

At the time, it was well understood that the foundation of deterrence is an offensive threat, with Canadians helping to pose a threat to the security of other people-a threat that in turn provokes a reciprocal response-so that the net effect is to reduce our collective security. The action-reaction process underlying the arms race is largely propelled by such threats. Given the inherent element of fear and threats, deterrence can't be non-provocative. Given economic and technological dynamics, it can't be stable.

It is important to recognize four salient points: first, the military threat has changed; second, Canada's armed forces need not be committed to deterrence; third, those who pursue the strategy don't need Canada to support their efforts; and fourth, there are alternatives.

Rather than attempt to deter aggression through participation in a strategy that relies on threats, a more appropriate strategy for Canada's armed forces might focus upon dissuasion. Whereas deterrence refers to intimidation, usually by threatening retaliation and punishment, dissuasion refers to caution and discouragement by emphasizing persuasion.

A focus on dissuasion and the peacetime defence of Canada might narrow the means of defence in one respect (war-fighting), while expanding it in several others (surveillance, patrol, peace-keeping and conflict resolution). If properly managed, such a strategy should be considerably safer than deterrence. For one, there would be more room for diplomacy to enter into the resolution of conflict. Dissuasion would also lend itself more readily to common security and co-existence.

Strengthening the U.N. and World Order

Another essential task for Canada will be to revitalize the dne international institution that is committed to ensuring common security.

Providing assistance to United Nations' security activities is likely to be a key priority of Canada's defence effort in the 1990s. Support for this institution should be encouraged and expanded. Efforts to strengthen international law and a civilized code of international conduct will help to defend Canada and bolster common security.

With a seat on the Security Council, and expertise in the vital areas of peacekeeping and arms control verification, Canada is well positioned at the U.N. to play a leadership role. Although criticized by some for not shouldering a fair share of the security burden-having been ranked sixth overall in defence spending within NATO-Canada's rank of fourth overall in contributions to the U.N. system suggests an exemplary record. Moreover, as NATO's relevance to European security declines, Canada's one sure option for reestablishing a multilateral counterweight is the United Nations. It may yet prove to be a more effective mechanism in this regard.

With a disturbing number of regional conflicts still on the agenda, the world will be calling for United Nations peacekeepers in the 1990s. While Canada's record of participation and support in this respect is excellent, it could still be improved. Unfortunately, there have been occasions when the assistance and material requested by the U.N. Secretary General could not be provided. Peacekeeping could now be accorded a higher status on the list of Canadian defence priorities.

Another option that would follow in a fine tradition of support for internationalism is the recent proposal for developing a Canadian centre devoted to the training of both Canadian and foreign forces for U.N. peacekeeping.

In the near future, consideration may be given to expanding the scope of peacekeeping operations. Greater efforts might be made toward developing a standing multinational brigade of peacekeepers and supported by a new division of labor, encouraging each contributor to a U.N. brigade specializing in a particular area of expertise, much as our own armed forces have developed special skills in the much needed area of communications. A U.N. peacekeeping force could even be based in Canada, ready to leave as soon as directed by the U.N. Secretary-General.

And, given the resurgence of interest in the U.N., it is not inconceivable that a percentage of the funds currently being spent elsewhere in the defence portfolio could be diverted to cover U.N. expenses.


As we restructure Canada's defence posture for the 19905, the armed forces will be called upon to perform different tasks. Greater emphasis must now be accorded to nonmilitary roles in areas such as environmental protection and arms control. If guided by a long-term vision of the post-cold war era, Canada's defence could help to civilize international relations and complement efforts to abolish war as a phenomenon. The ideal of common security now offers an excellent basis on which to develop acoherent, goal-oriented defence policy for Canada. It poses a refreshing alternative to the practices of"collective security" which left the world in two armed camps.

By establishing a security buffer, pursuing a policy of semi-alignment, shifting to a non-offensive defence posture, adopting a strategy of dissuasion, and working to strengthen the United Nations, Canada could effectively use its armed forces, resources, and territory to promote common security.

Such an approach would be consistent with Canada's commitment to peace-making, constructive internationalism, disarmament, and the building of international trust and confidence.

It is time for some new thinking on Canadian defence and security policy. We are in a period in which good ideas may be capable of moving events. Changing the guard may take time, but it is long overdue. U

Peter Langille is a peace researcher form Annapolis Royal Nova Scotia. He has taught Canadian defence policy at York University and is currently a PID candidate working on alternative security and alternative defence options in the Department of Peace Studies, University of Bradford, England. He is the author of a new book on this topic entitled Changing the Guard: Canada's Defence in a World in Transition (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1980).

Peace Magazine Aug-Sep 1990

Peace Magazine Aug-Sep 1990, page 21. Some rights reserved.

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